JJ Watt Provides One-Year Update on Hurricane Harvey Fundraiser

On August 26, 2017, Hurricane Harvey blew through Houston and the surrounding areas to become the most costly hurricane in American history, both in lives and livelihoods. It killed 88 people and caused nearly $200 billion worth of property and economic damage.

In the aftermath, J.J. Watt, a player on the Houston Texans team, saw the intense need in his adopted hometown immediately. By September 1, 2017, he had put up a fundraiser on the site Youcaring (now absorbed by GoFundMe) with an initial goal of $200,000 dollars.

“Hurricane Harvey has taken a catastrophic toll on our great city, while leaving many stranded and in need of assistance. We must come together and collectively help rebuild the aspects of our community members lives that were damaged or lost. Any donation that you can spare, no matter how large or small, is greatly appreciated. We will come out of this stronger than ever. We are Texans,” wrote Watt in the fundraiser’s initial pitch, which was accompanied by a video of the athlete making a heartfelt plea.

Within three weeks, more than 200,000 individual donors had amassed a donation of over $37 million.

On August 27, 2018, one year after Harvey, Watt, who had promised transparency to his donors, posted an update detailing the reach of the donated funds. Managed by Watt’s charity foundation, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, the money grew over the next year to more than $4.1 million, and was put to use rebuilding more than 600 homes and supporting Houston Food Bank and Feeding America, who together served over 26 million meals to those displaced and put in need by the hurricane. It also supported the rebuilding of 420 childcare centers to serve over 16,000 children, and got medicine to more than 10,000 patients in need.

The fund is not exhausted, either. The Foundation intends to continue building homes and assisting Houstonians with medical and food needs as long as they can, alongside nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club.


Touched By the Santa Fe Shooting, JJ Watt Offers to Pay for Funerals

On Friday, May 18th, a teenage boy armed with his father’s guns killed 10 people and wounded an additional 10 at Santa Fe High School, located about 30 miles outside of Houston. Coming less than two weeks before the end of the school year, the shooting put a terrible cap on a very difficult year for the school’s 1,400 students. In September, Hurricane Harvey flooded the town and caused dozens of evacuations. In February, there was a shooting scare caused by a prank. And now this.

J.J. Watt, 28, was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2011, and ever since then has been a force for charity in the local area. His charitable organization, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, provides after-school athletic activities for students and holds an annual Charity Classic softball game in Sugar Land, Texas. He raised over $37 million for the community’s recovery after Hurricane Harvey, over a hundred times his initial goal of $200,000.

After the shooting, Watt tweeted a short, heartfelt reaction:

“Absolutely horrific,” he said.

A day later, on May 19th, the Texans confirmed that Watt would be paying for the funerals of all 10 shooting victims.

“On behalf of the Texans organization, we are saddened by the tragic events at Santa Fe High School this morning and extend our thoughts and heartfelt condolences to the victims, their families, and all those affected. We are grateful for the brave first responders, law enforcement officials, and medical personnel. The Texans family will continue to pray for our neighbors,” said the team in a released statement.

After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Watt invited a number of affected families to the team’s field to hang out, loading them up with signed merchandise. He’s also hosted events for children orphaned in car crashes and visited children’s hospitals dressed as Batman. While he hasn’t any children of his own, it’s clear that children and their struggles loom large in his mind.


As Houston Recovers from Harvey, Don’t Forget About Rockport

The whole world is hearing about Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but Rockport, Texas, the city where the eye of the storm actually struck shore, tends to be referred to as a footnote. And that has only intensified after Irma’s damaging sweep across Florida.

But Rockport’s need is no less. A small city of about 10,000 people, Rockport lost its high school, several hotels, and whole neighborhoods, not to mention all of the local marinas. Recovery is expected to take years, and the town will never be the same.

Bill Thomas isn’t a local. He describes himself as a “frequent visitor.” But he saw a need in Rockport, and traveled there immediately after the storm.

Thomas is in distribution, and he put that career-gained knowledge to work immediately. A local business owner lent him an empty warehouse that was still standing, and he immediately launched a donation center.

Many of the donations coming into Rockport from across the country had no place to go, and it broke his heart to see pallets of baby food and paper goods that had to be thrown out from being left out in the elements. His warehouse gave everybody a place to bring those donations, a place he called Aransas County Harvey Donaton Center.

In less than a week, community members and strangers alike had donated nearly $10,000 to cover the center’s costs. A local business donated nearly 200 mattresses and pillows. Bayer Motor Company ran a fundraising drive among its employees.

“That’s what Texas is about,” said Bayer’s CEO Lucy Larose. “You just come together and you put aside your differences and you put aside what might be bothering you and you feel in your heart just that need to help out.”

Everything in Thomas’s Donation center is being given away free to anyone who needs it, and nearly everyone who has come for supplies has stopped a while to volunteer themselves.


J.J. Watt Raises More Than $27 Million for Hurricane Harvey Victims

J.J. Watt is 28 years old and at the peak of his football career as the Houston Texan’s star defender. And he’s here to help.

When he opened a Houston Flood Relief Fund on YouCaring on Sunday, August 27th, his initial goal of $200,000 was met and passed in a matter of hours, with donations coming from his teammates and fans. Soon enough, he raised $5 million, then $10 million, then $20 million. He rejoiced at hitting each new landmark.

“Absolutely incredible. The most difficult times bring out the best in humanity,” Watt said on Twitter at the $10 million mark.

By Wednesday, August 30, over 180,000 individual donors had raised that total to $27 million, which will go a long way to help the 50,000 people displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Most donations have been what individuals could afford, averaging around the $20 mark, but a growing handful of celebrities have written checks with a lot of zeros. Ellen Degeneres engineered a million dollar donation from Walmart. Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show donated another million, and promoted the drive on his show Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, Charles Butt, the CEO of Texas supermarket chain H-E-B donated a huge $5 million.

YouCaring itself donated $50,000, and Amazon donated trucks and labor to transport more physical donations. Both money and tangible donations will focus on supplying food, water, and needed goods to those who have lost everything to the hurricane, and those still waiting to find out if they have homes to go back to.

Watt says that he’s found a great deal of strength and inspiration in the response to his call for funds.

“Every time we hit one of these landmarks I’m amazed. I think the worst times bring out the best in people and we’re seeing it in abundance right now,” he tweeted on Friday. And he’s right. Volunteers and donations have flocked to the stricken city and its surrounding towns. It will never be enough, but everything helps.

*Photo credit: Disney | ABC Television Group via Flickr Creative Commons.


Tips for Helping Those Affected by Hurricane Harvey

Every major crisis comes with a cacophony of calls for donations. And Hurricane Harvey is no exception. Tens of thousands of people are displaced, thousands of homes gone. The flooding is off the scale, even a week after it all began. For every person looking to help, it can feel like a thousand hands are outstretched in their direction.

Here are a few tips to narrow down your own charity options.

Look for organizations on the ground. People who are already there, who you can see helping on the news. A lot of the time, this means the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Both have had their problems, but both also have demonstrated expertise in disaster relief. Other good grounded organizations include the United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Foundation. They both have long histories in the area.

This is the other half the same coin but it bears emphasis: avoid new groups. They may seem tailor-made to match your sympathies, but they could easily vanish as quickly as they appeared. High flight risk, in other words. Privately-run donation drives fall under this same umbrella. These are especially common in online communities. So is the organizer disappearing with the proceeds, or showing a faked-up receipt of donation.

Donate money, not goods. There will be organizations offering to collect blankets and clothes and used toys and food. They come from a well-meaning place, but they aren’t helpful. A 100-pack of blankets can be bought on Amazon for less money and less time than it would cost to collect and ship hand-me-downs. Companies out for more than karma points will only be asking for money and maybe volunteers.

And last but not least, consider the long-term. Hurricane Katrina was 12 years ago and NOLA’s last refugees are only just now moving back. Houston and the other washed-out parts of Texas will need donations in six months and in six years as much as they do today.


Houston Charity Suffers Huge Losses in Fire

Houston Furniture Bank is a non-profit that works with a network of 80 other charities to help underprivileged people get furniture. Since their founding in 1992, they’ve helped over 21,000 families get furniture, allowing 50,000 children to sleep in beds instead of on the floor. Their mission is built on the principle that furniture is a key step to improving living conditions, allowing families to eat at a table instead of on the floor. Families that receive items from Houston Furniture Bank are in the process of transitioning to independent living, most while struggling with extreme poverty. They’ve helped get almost a quarter of a million pieces of furniture into needy hands.

That is, until recently. At about 2:30 AM on Sunday, August 9, their 10,000-foot warehouse burned down. Although there is no news yet on what started the fire, the fact remains that the charity was devastated. They’ve lost everything, all the furniture that they had stored, as well as two delivery trucks. All that survived was the skeleton of the building and those trucks, and some files from the office.

The charity has started a drive to generate the funds to rent a new warehouse and begin stocking it with furniture. Oli Mohammad, the group’s executive director, has no intention of giving up on the group’s mission. In fact, he’s even tying to see the bright side. Although Houston Furniture Bank has done a lot of good, they could do more. Mohammad says that the need for furniture is one that many people don’t realize exists. People acknowledge poverty, and they acknowledge homelessness, and there are plenty of programs that try to address those needs, but even broke twenty-somethings who rely on used furniture for their own homes don’t realize that people who are worse off not only need those kinds of items, but struggle to obtain them.

Mohammad hopes that this fire, tragic though it is, will help to spread awareness of this need, which in turn could help Houston Furniture Bank do even more good.

Organizations Profiles

Philanthropic People: Rich and Nancy Kinder

Rich and Nancy Kinder
Rich and Nancy Kinder at the BBP Gala.
IMG: via The Kinder Foundation

Rich and Nancy Kinder have spent the last two decades applying the values instilled by their small-town roots toward remarkable philanthropic efforts. Both originally hailing from quiet American towns, the Kinders have called Houston home for much of their adult lives, and have also spent that time generously giving back to their city.

The husband and wife team established the Kinder Foundation in 1997 as a means to provide major gifts to public causes in their area. A family-oriented foundation, Rich and Nancy have been able to donate to worthy Houston causes with a focus on three major areas: urban green space, education, and overall quality of life. The broad vision the Kinder Foundation promotes is to help every Houston resident achieve a healthy and rewarding life.

The foundation’s mission is to:

Support Greater Houston as a model city for economic opportunity and quality of life by providing transformational grants to promote preservation and accessibility of parks and green space for healthy recreation, encouraging and improving learning opportunities for those who strive to achieve, and supporting those Community, Arts and Medical Science organizations that can be shown to favorably impact the quality of life of Houstonians.”

In short, the Kinder Foundation is focused on improving the quality of life in Houston by supporting education, the development of parks and urban green spaces, and by donating funds to health, cultural, and humanities groups. To date, the Kinder Foundation has granted more than $230 million in gifts and pledges to Houston-based organizations and worthy causes.

Some of Rich and Nancy’s most prominent donations include the funding of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, which promotes overall quality of life as well as higher education. The Kinders also funded the brand new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum as part of their commitment to supporting local education. Another example of their philanthropy is in the formation of the Kinder Emergency Center, donations to public school programs, the Texas Heart Institute, and the Houston Food Bank. Rich also serves as a life trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which has benefited from the foundation’s generous donations.

Most recently, the Kinder Foundation promised to donate $50 million to the non-profit Houston Parks Board for the Bayou Greenways Project, scheduled to be completed in 2020. This donation is part of the couple’s ongoing pledge to improve the city’s green spaces.

The Kinder Foundation’s extensive history of giving spans the areas of education, public health, the arts, and more. Rich and Nancy Kinder are models of philanthropy in their home city of Houston. For more information about the foundation and the Kinders, visit the Kinder Foundation’s official website.